Paralympics spotlight athletes with disabilities
August 14, 1996
From Correspondent Brian Cabell
ATLANTA (CNN) -- It has been fewer than two weeks since the Summer Olympics ended and Atlantans bid farewell to distinguished athletes from all over the world.
On Thursday, they will roll out the red carpet for another 3,500 distinguished athletes as the Paralympic Games get under way. If the running of the Paralympic torch is any measure, enthusiasm for the games for disabled athletes will rival that shown for the 10,700 Olympians.
The bearers of the Paralympic torch have been warmly received. The torch was lit 10 days ago from the eternal flame at Martin Luther King's burial place in Atlanta, and traveled 1,000 miles.
"Just as Dr. King taught us that the color of one's skin should not be the determinant of one's destiny, so too will the athletes in the Paralympics show that one's physical characteristics should not define the limits of one's potential," Andy Fleming, president of the Paralympic Games, said.
Training is rigorous
The physical characteristics of the Paralympians may vary, but the participants from 127 nations are indisputably premier athletes.
Norwegian Paralympic swimmer Andreas Dirtmann swims up to 100,000 meters or about 2,000 laps a week honing his stroke -- a regimen that easily compares to an Olympian's.
"They're more involved with their swimming. They're taking everything more serious," Swedish Paralympic swim coach Janne Sjoberg observed.
The seriousness extends to all 17 of the sports that will be featured at the 10-day Paralympics. These will be the biggest Paralympics since the first games in Rome in 1960. And they will be covered by the largest press corps ever.
The work is paying off. The Paralympians have gained respect, even celebrity.
"When I started in '88, if the media covered anything that I had done, they put it in the section of the newspaper that was geared to family life kind of things instead of sports. And now it's in the sports section," Canadian Track Olympian Linda Hamilton said.
Sharing their strength
But the Paralympics is more than just sport. It's education and inspiration.
Paralympians from the United States took time from their training Wednesday to promote their sports to eager disabled children.
Frontiers have opened up in the last couple of decades for disabled athletes, because of their unwavering determination. The children will follow them with feats of their own.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
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